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'I Was Stationed in Asia 40 Years Ago and I'd Love to Go Back'

As a young man in the navy, Bob Guynup lived it up in the Philippines -- now he's returning to tour the far east for two weeks with his wife

For a year and a half in the early 1960s, Bob Guynup, of Atlanta, served in the U.S. Navy at a small communications base in the Philippines. Whenever his supervisors allotted him some free time, he and his mates would head 30 miles south to Subic Bay, where the U.S. maintained a huge naval base. "I really loved those liberty days," he says. "Our bus would take us into Subic Navy Yard, and from there we'd walk into town to find a place to drink San Miguel beer." Other times, Guynup and his buddies hired a driver to lead them on various adventures. "One night we wound up in an illegal casino. You had to rap on the door like a speakeasy from the 1930s. It was exciting and high-class, with a good band and wonderful meals."

Like many veterans, Guynup has grown curious about what's become of his old stomping grounds. "We've been looking at a trip to the Far East for a few years now but haven't been able to go until this fall," says Susan Franklin, his wife. "My husband wants to return to Subic Bay, and we'd also like to see Bangkok, Hong Kong, and Cambodia over the course of two weeks or so. We know many people who are knowledgeable about Europe, but we haven't been able to find anyone reliable to advise us about Asia."

At your service! First on the agenda: transportation. Bob and Susan were perfect candidates for a special offer from Cathay Pacific called the All Asia Pass. For $1,199, it includes a flight from the U.S. to Hong Kong, Cathay's hub, and allows connections to 18 Asian cities over 21 days. If they signed up for the airline's free CyberTraveler program online, they'd get a discount of $200 per person. So each pass ended up costing $999 plus taxes (about $50 to leave the United States, and between $10 and $50 for every departure abroad).

As for putting together an actual itinerary with the pass, Cathay Pacific is of little help. The airline doesn't even sell the pass directly. Instead, it insists that clients book all their connections through a travel agent. Being flexible with dates and reserving well in advance are essential. Cathay's American gateways are Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. We told Bob and Susan to start their pass with a nonstop flight from L.A. to Hong Kong (some of the other connections involve long layovers). AirTran Airways had flights to L.A. for roughly $200 round trip.

Unfortunately, the Cathay pass doesn't cover travel to Cambodia. Bangkok Airways had the best deal on round-trip airfare from Bangkok to Siem Reap, near the amazing temple ruins of Angkor Wat: around $250 each.

"Back in the '60s, a good hotel in the Philippines was about $5 per night," says Bob. That's pretty cheap, but they're doing even better on this trip. The couple has saved up 225,000 American Express Membership Rewards points, which they're trading in for rooms at chains such as Hilton and Holiday Inn in Bangkok, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.

They had enough points for free nights everywhere except in Cambodia, so we suggested the Angkoriana Hotel. The Angkoriana is decorated in the ancient Khmer style but features modern amenities and a location right in Siem Reap, just a five-minute drive to Angkor Wat. Doubles start at $65, or a package with airport transfers, breakfast, dinner, and a driver/guide to the temples is available for $59 per person. (We recommended the full package for one night and a room without meals or tours for two more.)

Susan asked us about renting a car -- we said not to. Hong Kong and Bangkok are thoroughly modern, and public transportation is cheap, efficient, and fairly easy to figure out. Dealing with chaotic traffic, aggressive drivers, and road signs that aren't always in Roman letters, on the other hand, can be a nightmare. In Cambodia and the Philippines, where the infrastructure isn't always up to snuff, we told them to hire a car and driver for excursions (just like old times).

One of those trips has to be to Subic Bay. Bob and Susan chose to stay at the Holiday Inn at Clark Field, on a private parkland estate with 7,000 trees and a 27-hole golf course. Subic Bay is a two-hour ride away, and hiring a car and driver for the day costs about $70.

Bob probably won't recognize Subic Bay. The military compound was handed from the U.S. to the Philippine government in 1992. What was the base is now called Subic Bay Freeport, a commercial area filled with businesses and shops that employ approximately 45,000 people. There's a golf course, a yacht club, bowling alleys, discos, and a performing arts center, and it's all surrounded by virgin forest with easy walking trails. Things in Subic Bay are scheduled to change even more in the near future -- plans are under way to convert it into a commercial port that will bring in big cruise ships. We told Bob to contact Winstar Taxi Services for a custom tour of his old haunts in the area -- and to drink a couple of cold San Miguels for us!

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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